a baby bottle with formula dripping out

The Infant Formula Shortage and Its Impact on Children With Allergies

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2022

The current US shortage of infant formula has great consequences for babies and children with food allergies who rely on special allergy-free formulas. It has left many families confused, frustrated, and scrambling to feed their children.

About 1 out of every 20 children under the age of 5 live with a food allergy. They depend on special allergy-free formulas – like those containing hydrolyzed proteins – for complete nutrition.1,2

Many parents have had to drive hours to find formula at other stores, only to be met with empty shelves. Others have begun rationing their formula until they can find more. And some have turned to hospitals to get the specialty formulas they need.

The current state of the shortage

The federal government is taking action. It is working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US suppliers of baby formula to increase production and address the shortage.3

President Biden has also launched Operation Fly Formula. Operation Fly Formula uses the US Defense Department’s commercial planes to import formula from other countries. The hope is that stores can be stocked as soon as possible.4

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So far, Operation Fly Formula has shipped more than 75,000 pounds of formula into the United States. The formula is being sent to hospitals, healthcare clinics, and areas with the most urgent need. More flights like these will continue until the United States can meet the demand.4

Why is there a shortage?

In February 2022, Abbott Nutrition, one of the largest US makers of baby formula, recalled 3 of their powdered infant formulas after 4 babies got sick with Cronobacter infections. Cronobacter causes serious bacterial infections. The babies got sick after consuming the Abbott products, and at least 2 of the babies died.5

The recalled baby formulas include:5

  • Similac
  • Alimentum
  • EleCare

Pandemic-related labor shortages and supply chain issues were already affecting product availability. The recall only worsened the situation. Since it started, stores across the country have struggled to keep their shelves stocked.3,5

What to expect in the coming weeks

This shortage is expected to be temporary. But it is still a scary reality for parents.

The FDA is working with Abbott Nutrition to address these shortages. They are also working with other makers of infant formula to increase their production capacity.3

What caregivers and parents should do

If you have any of the above baby formulas, visit similacrecall.com to check if your product is included in the recall. Look at the lot code, a multidigit number located on the bottom of the container, and do not use that package if:5,6

  • The first 2 digits of the code are 22 through 37
  • The code on the container contains K8, SH, or Z2
  • The expiration date is 4-1-2022 (APR 2022) or later

Do not make homemade formula. Homemade formulas lack vital nutrients and may be harmful to your child. Do not water down formula, either. This can lead to poor nutritional balance and may lead to other health concerns.5,6

If you are unsure about which products are safe or have questions about feeding your child, talk with your doctor. A registered dietitian may be able to help. They can suggest a diet that provides complete nutrition using plant-based foods.6

Additional resources for parents

If you are a parent of a child with allergies, speak with their pediatrician for possible solutions. Here are some additional resources that can help:3

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